Star Trek TOS: ‘The Devil in the Dark’

Twitter informed me that the Star Trek episode ‘The Devil in the Dark’ (1967) was first aired fifty-one years ago on 9th March 1967.  This reminded me that it’s probably my favourite episode from the original series.

Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam down to a mining planet where the miners are under attack from a terrifying alien creature that lives in the depths of the tunnels.

I adore ‘The Devil in the Dark’ and think it brings together the elements that make Star Trek great.

It has a real sense of tension and menace and there are at least a couple of dead “redshirts” before the end. The way our heroes respond to the situation is rooted in their characters – Kirk seeks to lead and investigate, Spock to study and understand and McCoy to talk some sense into everyone before getting on with healing.

There’s an alien life-form that’s almost impossibly difficult to communicate with, but they must find a way.  And of course it turns out that things are not what they appear. As far as the Horta is concerned, it’s the miners who are the “devil in the dark”. The episode ends with forgiveness and the opening of a new chapter of understanding and possibly friendship.

Two moments are especially magic for me. There’s Spock mind-melding with the Horta and conveying its thoughts and feelings. Then there’s McCoy’s gleeful delight in having figured out how to treat the (silicon-based) creature’s injuries with cement.  This episode started the beloved “I’m a doctor not a _____” meme (“not a bricklayer” in this instance).

The uncredited guy (Janos Prohaska) under the Horta costume deserves much kudos for managing to convey emotion and personality.

I always thought it would have been wonderful if one of the later spin-offs had shown us a Horta in Star Fleet, one of the children that the guardian is trying to protect in ‘Devil in the Dark’, who grew up hearing all about the men from space who helped them. Apparently, this does happen in some of the non-canon comics and novels. 

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